The leaders of the U.S. Grains Council (USGC) and National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) recently traveled to South Korea and Mexico in concurrent missions to engage with customers and government officials during a period of policy uncertainty in the U.S. corn industry’s #1 and #3 markets.
“Trade equals huge success for U.S. feed grains in all forms,” said Deb Keller, USGC chairman and farmer from Iowa. “The Council has helped build relationships over decades with a large and loyal customer base in both Mexico and South Korea, reflected by increased demand and integrated grain supply systems. These missions helped reinforce those ties and let us hear directly from our customers.”
The delegation in South Korea included Keller; Wesley Spurlock, NCGA chairman from Texas; Lynn Chrisp, NCGA first vice president from Nebraska; Darren Armstrong, USGC secretary/treasurer from North Carolina; and Tom Sleight, USGC president and chief executive officer.
The joint mission in South Korea met with top level officials and buyers, including the Korean Trade Minister, in addition to visiting with local cooperatives and trade officials as well as a local farm using U.S. grains, a grocery store and a major port. During meetings, team members discussed the importance of the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) as well as grain quality and promotion. The delegation also assisted in celebrating the 45th anniversary of the Council’s presence in one of the top markets for U.S. feed grains and co-products.
In the 2016/2017 marketing year, exports of feed grains in all forms to South Korea hit a total of 8.32 million metric tons. South Korea jumped to the third largest buyer of U.S. corn in the marketing year, setting a six-year high. South Korea was also the third largest buyer of U.S. distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS), setting a record for a second year.
A second group of officers and staff leaders traveled to Mexico, including Jim Stitzlein, USGC vice chairman; Chip Councell, USGC past chairman from Maryland; Kevin Skunes, NCGA president from North Dakota; Chris Novak, NCGA chief executive officer; Kim Atkins, USGC vice president and chief operating officer; and Melissa Kessler, USGC director of communications.
They met with the major grain associations representing the top buyers of U.S. grain products, a large grain processing facility and government officials. While discussions surrounding the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took precedence, the team also learned more about the Council’s grain and ethanol focused programming in Mexico.
In 2016/2017, Mexico was the largest customer for U.S. corn, DDGS and malt (both roasted and non-roasted). Mexico also ranked as the second largest customer for sorghum and the tenth largest market for U.S. ethanol.
“The U.S. grain supply chain has been built around trade,” Skunes said. “Basis values, transportation and communities have been constructed around supplying corn to export markets. The loss of market access provided by these two very important trade agreements with South Korea and Mexico would have immediate and far-reaching impacts on farm economics across the United States.”